By Roy L Hales
The BC Liberals portray themselves as the party that brings economic stability and creates jobs. They claim the BC NDP and Green Party would introduce “reckless spending, higher taxes, and bigger government.” But, based on their past performance, are the BC Liberals better fiscal managers than the NDP?
Are the BC Liberals Better Fiscal Managers Than The NDP?
The answer to that question really depends upon which NDP Premier you are referring to – Mike Harcourt, or his successors.
Who left the highest provincial debt to their successors? That’s an easy one – Christy Clark has already topped the charts.
The NDP’s unemployment figures were much higher. They ranged from 10. 1% to 7.2%. Under Liberal former Premier Gordon Campbell, this number hit a low of 4.3%.
Only British Columbia’s economy does not exist in isolation. Canada was just coming out of a recession when Mike Harcourt became Premier. According to the Bank of Canada, “unemployment took a long time to recover.” Never-the-less during the NDP’s years the province economy grew between 2% and 4% a year. The Liberals took control when the two-decade-long decline in real commodity prices was ending. The global demand for energy, base metals and agricultural products took off. British Columbia’s economy started outperforming the nation’s once again.
When BC’s Unemployment Statistics Most favourably Compared With Canada’s
Despite this, the four years when British Columbia’s unemployment figures most favourably compare with the national average all occurred during Premier Harcourt’s watch. In fact, the province’s unemployment figures were lower than the national average throughout his tenure.
This changed after Glen Clark became Premier. By 1998, the province’s unemployment figures were worse than the rest of Canada. The Liberals like to boast that 50,000 British Columbians left the province to find jobs. CBC’s Reality check team confirmed the fact that 50,000 people left the province between 1998 and 2001, though, “it can’t be proven that they all left to find work.”
They added that prior to that people were flooding into B.C.:
“The trend continued for most of the NDP years in power. In fact so many Canadians came to B.C. during the NDP years, it more than compensated for a drain that began in 1997.During the NDP decade from 1991 to 2001 B.C. had a net gain of 126,000 people.”
By way of comparison, only 54,510 people entered the province during the first decade of the new Liberal regime.
According to a report from UBC’s Sauder School of Business, “The Harcourt government was dramatically more fiscally responsible than the Subsequent Glen Clark, Miller and Dosanjh governments, and better controlled the provincial debt and expenditures compared to GDP than have the Liberals. In turn, the BC Liberals outperformed the Glen Clark, Miller and Dosanjh NDP governments.”1
When BC’s Unemployment Statistics Least favourably Compared With Canada’s
Yet the three years when British Columbia’s unemployment figures least favourably compared with the national average all occurred under Premier Gordon Campbell.
In fact, Canada’s unemployment figures were better than BC’s throughout much of Campbell’s tenure.
Yet these were fat years for British Columbia and the rest of Canada. The unemployment numbers fell to between 4.3% and 8.5%.
Campbell’s political demise came about after he rammed through the highly unpopular Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). His former Minister of Education turned CKNW radio host, Christy Clark, told CTV News the Liberals were going to have a very tough time in the next election. (This did not stop her from becoming Campbell’s sucessor.)
Under Christy Clark
As you can see in the chart to the left, under Premier Christy Clark British Columbia has consistently experienced lower unemployment figures than the National average. She likes to boast that, under her government, the province has become a leader when it comes to job creation.
According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, this may be true for the Lower Mainland, but not the province’s more rural areas.
The B.C. Federation of Labour claims that ,”nearly half of the 70,000 jobs created last year were part-time, low-paying positions.”
Growth of B.C.’s Long Term Debt
An even worse picture emerges when you look at the province’s growing debt.
Gordon Campbell added $12 billion to the province’s long-term debt. As the Globe and Mail wrote, “This is not the kind of record that a party that prides itself on responsible fiscal management wants.”
Comparing his record to the NDP’s, they added:
“The NDP economic record during its decade in office was not as bad as the Liberals suggest. In fact, there is a case to be made that the provincial economy grew at a faster clip under the New Democrats than it did under the Liberals – but then so did overall debt.”
“When the NDP assumed power in 1991, the B.C. provincial debt was $17-billion. When it got kicked out in 2001, it was nearly $34-billion. The NDP doubled it.”
During Christy Clark’s watch, the debt doubled again. She likes to boast that her administration delivered five balanced budgets, but does not say that the debt went up another $21 billion. The provincial debt was 66.7 billion at the end of 2016.
This does not take into account the soaring debt from BC’s crown corporations.
According to a press release from last November, BC Ferries is 1.2 billion in debt.
When the Liberals took power in 2001, BC Hydro’s debt was $6.2 billion. This has grown to $18.6 billion 2, in addition to which the utility is committed to purchase another $58 billion of electricity that we do not need from Independent Power Producers (IPP).
Reviving The Mega-projects Of BC’s Past
The BC Liberals hope to rescue the province from their fiscal ineptitude with mega-projects similar to those that brought prosperity during the 1960s.
British Columbia still obtains clean and relatively inexpensive electricity from the dams built by WAC Bennett’s government. Only we no longer need more energy. The BC Utilities Commission already turned down the proposed Site C dam twice, which is why the Liberals bypassed them after they revived the project in 2010. Despite strong opposition, Premier Clark is attempting to push the environmental devastation of the Peace River Valley past the point of no return.
Clark’s “trillion-dollar” LNG dream is another attempt to revive the past. The shale boom is over. Prices are low and there is not much demand for more LNG.
Coal is no longer “king,” so why are Lower Mainland residents being forced to accept a doubling of the coal terminal capacity in their area?
There is no need to expand the Trans Mountain pipeline, so that more diluted bitumen can flow through the province’s most populated area.
If British Columbia, and Canada, wants to meet its’ climate goals it needs to start winding down fossil fuel production, not ramp it up.
Contrary to the image they wish to portray, the BC Liberals have not been good fiscal managers of the province’s resources. Their administration is typified by reckless spending, which will ultimately lead to higher taxes, higher hydro rates and higher ferry fares. The BC Liberals will give us less jobs, not more.
The province was in much better hands when the NDP were in power under Mike Harcourt.
Top Photo Credit: Screenshot from YouTube video Jack Webster’s 1986 interview of Mike Harcourt
- Tsur Somerville, Politics and Performance: British Columbia’s Economic and Fiscal Experience under the NDP and BC Liberals 1991-2013, Sauder School of Business, May 2013 ↩
- p 74, 2015/16 hydro statement ↩